Axios Pro Exclusive Content

Exclusive: Amplica Labs buys Emerson Collective's Speakeasy

Apr 19, 2024
Illustration of speech bubbles containing ones and zeros.

Illustration: Gabriella Turrisi/Axios

Amplica Labs has acquired Speakeasy, the AI-driven platform for online discourse co-founded by The Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson and Emerson Collective CTO Raffi Krikorian.

Why it matters: The deal is a new chapter for what was once viewed as an alternative to Twitter amid the social media company's turmoil under Elon Musk's leadership.

Zoom in: Under terms of the deal, Amplica Labs is buying Speakeasy's technology. Speakeasy's small team, all of whom have other media industry jobs, will not join Amplica Labs.

  • The acquirer is a 32-person, Los Angeles-based tech company focused on building infrastructure for social web products. It's part of Frank McCourt's Project Liberty and McCourt Global.
  • Amplica Labs president Braxton Woodham, who plans to speak about the deal on Friday at Project Liberty Institute's Spring Summit in Cambridge, Mass., says his team is analyzing the tech and preparing partnerships.
  • Krikorian joined Amplica Labs as an adviser last month.
  • Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Flashback: In 2022, Thompson and his team, with the backing of Laurene Powell Jobs' Emerson Collective, started building a platform that ranked comments by how thoughtful and informative they were based on people's feedback. They hosted about 500 conversations in a beta community.

  • "We tried really hard to make sure we had ideological balance, that we had political balance, that we had people who disagreed on topics conversing with each other," Thompson tells Axios.
  • Thompson says they did not see a business model for the original platform and chose to rebrand from The Narwhal Project to Speakeasy and become a SaaS company.
  • Their team included: Gitesh Gohel, who recently joined The Washington Post as head of product and design; Brian Barrett, who works as executive editor of news at Wired; and Loren Riesenfeld, an engineer for The Atlantic.

The big picture: Other Twitter alternatives have persisted. Instagram's Threads has captured the most attention.

  • "All I wanted was a place for civil conversations. Places where you would spend an hour and at the end of the hour you would say, 'Gosh, that was time well spent,'" Thompson says. "I don't think the problem is any closer to being solved than I did when we set out."

💭 Kerry's thought bubble: While Twitter has lost a lot of value to me since the X rebrand, it's still useful. Yesterday, it's where I discovered a new movie trailer thanks to director M. Night Shyamalan's own post, and I was glued to Taylor Swift's posts about her new album.

Go deeper